Memphis in Mad Men

One of the intriguing aspects of AMC’s hit “Mad Men” is how well it captures the 1960s. For those of us who grew up then, it is fun to see things pop up that were popular then that we’ve forgotten about. Of course, a good cast and good writing is a lot of it, too.

Last week, for example, Joan and her mother were eating in their apartment and on the table was a bottle of Lancer’s rose. Lancer’s came in an odd earthen colored pottery bottle that made it instantly recognizable. Today such a bottle would disgust oenophiles. But then it was popular. Songs of that era and popular plays of the time get mentioned, too. I always laugh that Robert Morse plays one of the firm’s bosses; his first big Broadway role was in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” The writers give little winks like that from time to time.

Last night dredged up another, but tragic, moment. Only this time it involved Memphis. In the episode, the New York Ad Club held a banquet saluting local agencies. Paul Newman was beginning to speak when everything was interrupted by the news that Dr. King had been shot in Memphis.

Everyone was horrified and continued to feel the tragedy the next day. They were scared of mass riots and looting, which seems to have happened in the North. Walter Cronkite gave the news and mentioned Memphis, the Lorraine Hotel and Mayor Henry Loeb in the event that grew out of the local garbage collectors’ strike.

Memories came flooding back. If you were alive on that day, like JFK’s assassination, you remember where you were and what you were doing when the news came across. I was 12, the same age as Don’s daughter Sally. My family had finished eating dinner and I went back to my dad’s room to watch “I Love Lucy.” Shortly after it came on at 6 o’clock, I heard the news.

Unlike Don and his family, I did not fear riots or think that I was in danger. My school had a fashion show planned for that night and my mom drove up there to attend and take a baked good she was asked to make. Immediately people came out to the cars and told everyone to go home.

I don’t recall anyone being happy that the assassination happened. It was more like dismay. I do remember a memorial service was held at the Coliseum which black and white made an effort to attend; something Dr. King was all about. Mayor Loeb wisely declared a curfew and everyone stayed pretty well put, if I remember correctly.

Funny to hear Mayor Loeb mentioned in a TV show like Mad Men. Old timers like me remember his brother’s dry cleaning business and how he used his kids, of which there were many, in billboards and commercials. Today it’s a Loeb family member who is working on Overton Square’s rejuvenation.

Network reporters and others in the media swamped our city. The other lingering memory I have was my first encounter with how dastardly the liberal media is. Time magazine clucked about the assassination happening in the South and, in particular, in a “stinking little river town” – ours.

Didn’t matter that the assassin wasn’t one of us. We were labeled. Once that racist term gets slapped on you it’s harder to get rid of than a scarlet R etched into the flesh. To this day we suffer from it.

Then, what happened two months later in Los Angeles with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, didn’t earn that city negative press.

To this day, I’m not sure exactly who killed Dr. King. We have all come to distrust the media so much – and our government – that there will always be questions.

That is part of the legacy of the 60s.

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